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Harajuku

Does this self declared fashion capital live up to its name?

29 December, 2010 by

Harajuku is a small section in Shibuya, made famous overseas by various depictions in popular media. Touted as a fashion capital of the world, Harajuku is said to be a mecca for street fashion enthusiasts and the heart of Tokyo’s already novel fashion trends. Those visiting the shopping district with this fictional perception might be in for a disappointment. Here’s a more realistic take.

Visiting Harajuku

The most direct means of access by JR lines is the Harajuku Station on the Yamanote line. The station is conveniently located at the entrance of the shopping street as well as the Meiji Jingu Shrine. If you’re coming by subway, Tokyo Metro’s Meiji Jinguemae (Harajuku) Station is located directly next to the JR Station.

If it’s the shopping street you’re looking for, simply take a step out and you’ll be in Harajuku.

You can't miss it.

Tip: The place can get ridiculously crowded during the afternoon on weekends. The human traffic still flows smoothly but if you’ve got a thing against crowds, avoid shopping areas during this time. The sea of people has become famous in itself so you might just want to see it once for the experience.

Why I avoid shopping on weekends.

Tip: On the other hand, it’s popular to hold traditional styled weddings at the Jingu Shrine on weekends and Sunday is the day where activities are held at the nearby Yoyogi Park. Due to the close proximity of all three locations, most first time visitors might want to cover these three places at once. Set aside at least half a day.

For a more leisurely pace, visit the place really early in the morning or in the evening. I hate crowds, which is why most of the photos in this post will be from different visits at other times.

Still.

Takeshita Dori

What most people refer to as “Harajuku” is really Takeshita Dori (Street). Located beside Harajuku Station, the 400 meter long alley plays host to dozens of shops catering toward a teenage market. Lots of clothing stores, fast food joints and shops selling random novelty goods. For Singaporeans, think of it as the Japanese version of Bugis Street or one giant 77th Street.

You'll find no shortage of cheap fast food here.

Sure enough, you’ll find that most of the shops here sell “street fashion” styled clothing. The gaudy fashions are most suited toward teenagers aged 12-18, which make up their primary customers. If you’re any older than that, you’ll be better off looking at central Shibuya for your shopping needs. Those with the money to spare can try the boutiques at the adjacent Omotesando Hills or Daikanyama.

There's a whole section selling Johnny's stuff for young teenage girls.

Harajuku had been the place where East and Western fashion influences clashed head on, even before Gwen Stefani started hanging out with her Harajuku Girls (who are American by the way). In the past Takeshita Dori was actually the brewing ground for counterfeit Western styled clothing. The street was made popular by young people flocking here for the latest fad.

Lots of the famous case studies in Harajuku fashion, such as their Hip Hop, Gyaru, Lolita and Punk culture have evolved out of Japanese’s misunderstanding of foreign culture. Apparently Harajuku is not nearly as crazy as it was back in the 90s. Even as a more robust shopping area now, I would still categorize most of the clothing sold here as wearable only in Harajuku.

Sneaker shop.

If you’re not in the mood for leather threads, frilly dresses or kigurimi fashions, the other stores at Takeshita Dori sell the kind of clothes you’d find from a online “spree” type shop, which are China-made knockoffs of fashions stolen from the latest teen magazines.

These are created in bulk for the young teenagers who wish to adorn the latest styles, while relying on just their allowance. Most of them aren’t meant to be kept for longer than the current season but still, the Japanese quality control means they are probably of better quality than what you’d find online.

This shop just sells socks.

With some careful shopping you might be able to pick up some actually usable fashions, especially from stores off the main street.

Meiji Dori

Surrounding Takeshita is the Meiji Street, where you’ll find more mainstream shops and departmental stores. This is also where the main road intersects with streets leading up to Omotesando Avenue.

Meiji Dori Junction.

During our last visits MJ and I would learn that this is where the Japan Fashion Association guys hang out during weekends to shoot the Harajuku section of their Tokyo Street Style website. AKB48 fans might remember this place for a different reason.

Zara.

Appropriately, Meiji Dori is the middle ground between Harajuku and Omotesando. Here you’ll find familiar retail level brand names like Zara or Forever 21. Depending on the value of the Yen at any point of time, prices are similar, if not cheaper (at least when compared to Singapore).

Forever 21.

The range provided at such shops aren’t too different from what you’d get in your own country, with the addition of pieces suited to a country with four seasons. Visitors might benefit from having all the different lines in one large shop but most flagship stores call Ginza home instead.

Also, tai tai dining alternatives.

Harajuku Street

Often missed by hasty tourists, Harajuku Street is where the real essence of Harajuku can be found. Located past Takeshita Dori and a little diagonally to the left, Harajuku Street is indicated by a small sign overshadowed by Takeshita’s.

Harajuku Street.

Shops not open yet. But it's a quieter street even on weekends.

This is the classy side of Harajuku. Lots of small posh boutiques and indie fashion labels make up this side of the town. It’s much less crowded here as its also a residential area but for the shopper there’s still much to see among the scattered side streets of Jingumae. If you explore far enough, you’d also end up in Aoyama or Omotesando which is worth a trip too.

Indie lingerie.

Harajuku Street is where the real budding designers try out their fashions. The admirable side of Harajuku that has been mashed with the crazy fashion mix ups in media overseas.

On average clothing here is of course pricier. But you’ll be getting truly unique, one of a kind styles. For the fashion conscious, this is a worthy trade off. Look carefully and you might find a bargain or two though. There are thrift shops and stores that survive from just selling second hand clothes.

Quaint shops.

In a contrast to the mobs just one street away, there are some nice cafes to chill out over at this side of Harajuku too. As you can tell, I’m not too fond of Takeshita Dori but I can definitely recommend a visit to Harajuku Street.


View Harajuku in a larger map

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.


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Chad

Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.